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Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

302           Truth and Convenience

The search after truth is like the search after perpetual
motion or the attempt to square the circle. All we should aim
at is the most convenient way of looking at a thing—the way
that most sensible people are likely to find give them least
trouble for some time to come. It is not true that the sun
used to go round the earth until Copernicus's time, but it is
true that until Copernicus's time it was most convenient to us
to hold this. Still, we had certain ideas which could only fit
in comfortably with our other ideas when we came to consider
the sun as the centre of the planetary system.

Obvious convenience often takes a long time before it is
fully recognised and acted upon, but there will be a nisus
towards it as long and as widely spread as the desire of men
to be saved trouble. If truth is not trouble-saving in the long
run it is not truth: truth is only that which is most largely and
permanently trouble-saving. The ultimate triumph, there-
fore, of truth rests on a very tangible basis—much more so
than when it is made to depend upon the will of an unseen
and unknowable agency. If my views about the Odyssey, for
example, will, in the long run, save students from perplexity,
the students will be sure to adopt them, and I have no wish
that they should adopt them otherwise.

It does not matter much what the truth is, but our knowing
the truth—that is to say our hitting on the most permanently
convenient arrangement of our ideas upon a subject whatever
it may be—matters very much ; at least it matters, or may
matter, very much in some relations. And however little it
matters, yet it matters, and however much it matters yet it
does not matter. In the utmost importance there is un-
importance, and in the utmost unimportance there is im-
portance. So also it is with certainty, life, matter, necessity,
consciousness and, indeed, with everything which can form
an object of human sensation at all, or of those after-reason-
ings which spring ultimately from sensations. This is a
round-about way of saying that every question has two sides.


Our concern is with the views we shall choose to take and
to let other people take concerning things, and as to the way
of expressing those views which shall give least trouble. If